A week ago I loaded up my van and began the drive down to Gold Canyon, Arizona. It would be my fourth visit and extended stay there. I’d booked a townhouse there for March 15 to April 15. I took the largest suitcase in my collection and threw in virtually ALL of my summer (golfing) shirts and shorts. It and two of my bikes and my golf clubs were behind me in the back of the van. I also had Max’s little bicycle and Tim and Alex’s golf clubs loaded up. I left town just before noon, heading down to Sioux City, Iowa for my first night.
The roads were fine — no ice or snow. The U.S. customs guy asked me where I was going and for how long and then wished me a safe trip. The American freeways were what they always are: big and smooth and wide open and fast. Eighty miles and hour. Just me and all my trucker buddies on the road. Big blue sky. I kept an eye on the outside temperature gauge on my dashboard to see how far I would have to drive before it went up a degree. It felt great to be on the road again.
I made it down to the America’s Best Value Inn in South Sioux, Nebraska by around 8pm. I guess ‘value’ is in the eye of the beholder. The ‘receptionist’ would have easily qualified for the Ringling Brothers ‘Largest Man in the World’ exhibit. I decided to forego a ‘happy meal’ or some similar fast food supper option, and just have a couple of ‘fleisch perschke’ and a can of Pilsner Urquell from my cooler of ‘leftovers’ I’d salvaged from my fridge when I ‘closed down’ the house this morning. I drove down Main Street and stopped at a car wash to desalinize my van. That made me feel better.
I guess ‘Free Hot Breakfast’ is also subject to interpretation. Luckily the egg mcmuffin and one-dollar coffee at the nearby McDonald’s drive-thru were less disappointing. The overnight temperature was just above freezing, but it would be another great day for driving. With both me and my van freshly washed, clean and shiny, and fuelled up, we hit the road. Straight south. All day. Straight down to Oklahoma City. That’s about the same latitude as Albuquerque and only a little farther north than Phoenix so it should be nice and warm.
After another 8-hour day of open roads and lots of great (loud) music from the random playlist on my old iPod that’s hooked up to my car stereo, I arrived at the (ten dollar pricier than last night’s hotel) ‘Broadway Inn & Suites’ Best Western in Oklahoma City. It took only three false starts for me to find a satisfactory room (with a working lightbulb in the bathroom) before I opened up my backpack and logged onto the hotel wifi. I was a little hoarse from singing all day and very hungry from not having eaten a decent meal for a couple of days. And I needed to stretch my legs. The little (thin) East Indian guy behind the front desk showed me on his phone how to get to the nearest cineplex where I would find restaurants and movies to help me while away the evening. Only about 2 miles from the hotel — I would walk. Walk? No, much too far. Yes, walk. I need the exercise. Is it safe for me to walk back in the dark later? Oh yes. I checked the movie listings and picked the one that sounded least like the typical big ‘blow-em-up’ sound and fury blockbuster of the lot. And then I headed out.
The movie wasn’t much more interesting than the fish burger I had before it. In fact, since I’m writing this a nearly a week later, I’ve actually forgotten both. But the walk was great. Sure, it’s a little unnerving to walk back in the dark in a strange city on an unlit sidewalk for a brisk 45-minutes, but it feels so good when you get back to your ‘Broadway’ suite safe and sound.
Another cool morning. Scrambled eggs and sausages for breakfast. Fill up the van. Hit the road, heading straight west to Albuquerque. Most of the way the road was 3 lanes in each direction, with the trucks limited to using the right two lanes. There are so many semis on the road now that it makes sense to have dedicated trucking lanes. Nothing is more frustrating than getting slowed down by a semi SLOWLY trying to pass another semi.
I got into Albuquerque early. Because I’d booked a hotel on the west side of the city I got stuck in rush hour traffic for the last hour of my drive. Still, I checked into my hotel at around 4pm. Plenty early. Last night when I made my hotel booking for today I had purposely selected a hotel that was near shopping centres and restaurants and theatres — thinking that would be more convenient than repeating the long late night ‘stroll’ I’d had through ‘no-mans-land’ last night. Well, I guess there’s always a trade-off: sure, the Microtel Inn and Suites was surrounded by strip malls and gas stations, but clearly THIS side of Albuquerque wasn’t the ritzy part of town. Pimps and beggars and a busy highway did not make a walk tonight all that appealing. And the note at the hotel front desk, suggesting that vans and trailers would be safer if parked in the well-lit back lot where there were security cameras, didn’t instil a whole lot of confidence in me either. Instead of walking, I ended up taking the van to the strip mall just down the street. And whatever ‘fitness kick’ I thought I was on was quickly undermined when I ordered a big greasy shrimp and fries meal at a ‘chester-fried’ chicken joint where I could sit by the window and keep an eye on my van! No movie tonight. I was back in my room by 8:30. Since the last leg of my trip was a 6-hour drive into Gold Canyon, and ‘possession’ of my house was supposed to be at 3pm, I decided I might as well stay up ‘late’ and watch a couple of the late night comedy shows. Unfortunately the next time I looked at the clock it was one o’clock in the morning — I had slept through my shows and the only thing on TV now was infomercials and late-night TV preacher shows. Man, I’m such a loser!
I’m telling you, those crazy waffle machines they have in all the hotels now aren’t NEARLY as exciting as they were the first few times I saw and used them! Every flea-bitten (flea-infested?) hotel now advertises “Hot Breakfast” or even “Hot BUFFET Breakfast”. By now I know better; I’ll skip it and instead pull into one of the truck stops an hour into the drive and go for the egg mcmuffin and coffee.
It’s just a few minutes out of Albuquerque and immediately the scenery changes. Before me, as far as the eye can see, extends a big valley with rocky ridges out in the distance and a ‘ribbon of divided highway’ painting a black stripe from me to the horizon. And the farther down the road I go, the better the scenery gets. I take a turn south off of the interstate at Grants and take the scenic route through the El Malpais National Conservation Area. I should have taken more photos. It’s a bit of a climb up to Show Low, Arizona where I stop for gas. At 6300 ft, the temperature here is freezing. And the ‘sleety’ rain that’s coming down limits my fill to ten bucks — that will get me ‘home’ where I’ll fill it up for real. But the best part of the ride is just ahead. The winding trip down to a thousand feet of elevation takes me through the Snake River Canyon. STUNNING! You don’t even WANT to pass the slow vehicles ahead of you because it’s so much fun to look at the cliffs on the one side and the canyon down to the river below you and the other side. The highway soon takes a turn back up to northwest, and then it’s only a few more minutes and I see the familiar and welcome sight of Superstition Mountain. I’m “home” — at least it FEELS like I’m home. I’m happy to be here.
I had emailed the rental agent yesterday to enquire about how to get access to the house — and she emailed back that she was too busy and so she gave me the access code to the community gate and told me the keys to the house would be under the mat at the front door. I made a quick stop at the Basha’s grocery store at the corner to buy provisions for the first evening and tomorrow’s breakfast. I’m still not very comfortable shopping for groceries, but I had made a bit of a list and I managed okay. Then I drove to the house — again, I remembered the area because a few years ago Sue and I had come from Palm Springs to visit our friends Dave and MaryLou who had rented a house in this same complex. I found the keys, parked the van in the garage, unloaded the groceries, and opened a bottle of Sam Adams lager. Ahhh. This will work out just fine!